A chorus of hidden birds were humming, the pink sun was rising over the South American hills, and Colorado College sophomore Cecelia Mweka was scrambling on all fours up an impossibly steep set of stairs on the Inca Trail. With a few more hip-hurting surges, Mweka crested the overlook, completing her four-day trek through the Andes Mountains. She peered down onto the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu, ecstatic.
In early June, Mweka and 15 other CC students and faculty members traveled to Peru for a 10-day trip under the CC program, “Ecotourism and Adventure Travel.” The expedition was co-organized by Director of Outdoor Education Ryan Hammes and Sustainability Director Ian Johnson. The mission of the trip was for students to experience adventure travel while respecting the environment and local populations.
“We recognize that our students, in addition to ourselves, have global and worldly travel aspirations,” Johnson said. “So we want to satisfy some of those desires but also look at what it means to be an eco-tourist, how to travel sustainably, what it means to support local economies, and how to respect cultures and histories while we’re doing these things.”
The group discussed their eco-footprint and cultural experiences. Since the Inca Trail is heavily regulated, they traveled with a guide company called G Adventures, which led the hiking portion of the trip as well as visits to local communities.
The trip commenced on the evening of June 8, when the group congregated at a hostel in Cuzco. Early the next day, the CC travelers swerved through busy Cuzco markets, gasped at ancient architecture, and left the city with a glance toward a beautiful overlook. Then, they took a bus to the town of Ollantaytambo, home of the Inca Trail trailhead.
In Ollantaytambo, G Adventures brought the travelers to a local farm-to-fork-restaurant, a potter’s co-op, and a women’s weaving co-op. These local businesses began as start-ups, supported by seed-funding from G Adventures. Mweka was thoroughly impressed and touched by the artwork at these co-ops.
“Before we started our hike, we went to this small community of women,” Mweka said. “These women, who were showing us how they did it, were using wool from alpacas and they make the string out of it, dye it, weave it. We met this old lady who was 102.”
The day after visiting the co-ops, the group set off on the trail. Their four-day trek went through two large passes, both under 14,000 feet. The weather was consistently rainy, and as CC students stumbled through the mountains, the local porters sprinted past them, carrying tables, mess tents, and food for the group on their backs.
Bonding with these porters at camp, the CC group learned about the Andean people and their history along the Inca Trail. Ancient ruins appeared about every 10 kilometers along the trail, and the group was fascinated by the architecture and history.
On the fourth day, the group summited the overlook to Machu Picchu during sunrise.
“No one really knew it was going to be right there,” Hammes said. “We went up this really steep set of stairs and the look on everyone’s faces—they felt really accomplished and really full of energy and excitement.”
Mweka described her satisfaction: “I had been looking forward to that day since I was very little,” she said. “Getting to that point…it was sunny and clear and beautiful. It was just amazing.”
Looking down on the ancient ruins, the CC group of 16 leaned back, hands on their sore hips, and examined the hordes of tourists scrambling off of tour buses. They turned to each other, to their porters, and to their friends, grateful for their trek through mountains, communities, and culture.
“That was the goal and the challenge of the trip: to experience travel in as respectful and authentic of a way as possible,” Johnson said, smiling.
The June trip to Peru was the second annual trip in the Ecotourism and Adventure Travel program. Johnson and Hammes will lead the next programmed trip to Iceland this coming summer. If interested in applying, mandatory info sessions will be held in the Outdoor Education Center on Sept. 12, Sept. 25, and Oct. 19 at 4:00 p.m.